Women's Professional Fastpitch: Smash It Sports Vipers Preview
Women's Professional Fastpitch: Smash It Sports Vipers Preview
The Smash It Sports Vipers were trailblazers in a new era for fastpitch softball, taking the leap, and the field, for the WPF exhibition season last summer.
The Smash It Sports Vipers were trailblazers in a new era for professional fastpitch softball, taking the leap to take the field for the Women’s Professional Fastpitch’s (WPF) exhibition season last summer.
This time around, it’s for real.
The Vipers slithered around the country in the WPF’s promotional campaign, showing potential for what they could do and the type of team they could build upon. With a core established, coaches retained (finally) a permanent place to play, too.
The vipers have a new home!!— Smash It Sports Vipers - Pro Womens Fastpitch Team (@SmashIt_Vipers) January 25, 2023
Read more here!!https://t.co/VqOg7ZkqPC
The now Alabama-based team will embark with three other teams in a historic first official season for the WPF, as it establishes itself as the new top professional softball league in the country.
After over a year of creating an identity and building the foundation, the Vipers are ready to go and have plenty of exciting draft picks who have, or will, join them for the summer.
To win it all in Year 1, however, is a different kind of daunting challenge.
Here’s a look at what the Smash It Sports Vipers bring to the table in the first official season of Women’s Professional Fastpitch.
One of two teams in the 2023 WPF season (along with the USSSA Pride) to have competed in last summer’s exhibition campaign, the Vipers – with their name coming from a New York-based baseball and softball equipment store – didn’t have a permanent venue last year.
They mainly shared the USSSA Space Coast Complex in Florida, with the Pride, going 17-13, as they played a variety of teams in various locations, including the Pride and the Mexican national team.
In terms of its games for the 2023 season, the Vipers have found a sweet home in Alabama at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, a multi-field complex that has played host to multiple major softball events and tournaments, including exhibition games for the United States national team last summer, which featured matchups against Australia and Japan.
Gerry Glasco returns as head coach for another summer, fresh off a 50-win season and a Super Regional appearance with the college program (Louisiana) he also leads, while the rest of the staff is rounded out by an experienced group, including former UAB coach Joe Guthrie, Texas A&M assistant Hunter Veach and former standout Northwestern pitcher Courtnay Foster.
With the first WPF title up for the taking this summer, the Vipers, now with a home base and a more formal setup, will look to strike and take charge.
Perhaps the biggest story regarding the Vipers’ roster entering the WPF season wasn’t necessarily about who they had – though we’ll get to that in a bit – but who they lost.
The club was responsible for being the first professional team of Jocelyn Alo, the former Oklahoma superstar who finished her college career as the sport’s all-time home run leader, after picking her first overall in the 2022 WPF college draft and seeing her hit .373 with three home runs in her debut pro season.
But prior to the WPF’s first official season, the Vipers traded Alo to an expansion franchise, the Oklahoma City Spark, in exchange for cash and draft picks, including the No. 5 overall selection (which turned into Oklahoma State’s Rachel Becker) in the 2023 WPF Draft in April.
Whether or not the Vipers made the right call is left to be determined, but the team’s roster is stacked, regardless.
Catcher Mary Iakopo, who started over 200 games at Texas and was one of the driving forces behind the Longhorns’ push to the championship series of the Women’s College World Series as an unseeded team in 2022, is one of the more high-profile names on the squad and is playing like it early on in the WPF season, too, slashing .375/.500/.500 entering Tuesday’s games across 10 plate appearances.
There’s also a heavy presence of Ragin’ Cajuns from Louisiana in the dugout who Glasco has helped bring over, as four players – including 2023 fifth-round pick Karly Heath and leading hitter (.400) Raina O’Neal – played college softball in Lafayette under their pro coach, who is trying to bring the winning tradition from the Sun Belt Conference to the WPF.
Loop in a number of former Olympians with the Mexican national team, including NC State career batting average leader Tatyana Forbes and former Arizona State standout Chelsea Gonzales, and the Vipers are a unit that’s not scared of playing on the big stage.
The Draft Picks
If the Vipers wanted star power to bring in more casual fans, few college softball players over the past few seasons have built more of a name for themselves than former Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts.
A four-time All-American, past NFCA Pitcher of the Year and one of the few players in history to throw a perfect game at the WCWS (as she did in a legendary performance against UCLA in 2021).
Fouts’ decorated college career with the Crimson Tide ended in Oklahoma City earlier this month when ‘Bama was knocked out after losses to Tennessee and Stanford, but her softball career as a whole will continue with the Vipers, after they drafted her in the sixth round (23rd overall).
And the final pick for the Vipers goes to Alabama Pitcher Montana Fouts!! pic.twitter.com/03CnN8WcBz— Smash It Sports Vipers - Pro Womens Fastpitch Team (@SmashIt_Vipers) April 18, 2023
Her selection came a few rounds after the other end of the Tide’s top battery from this season, catcher Ally Shipman, was picked seventh overall, allowing the two to reunite and play home games in the same state in which they won many games during the two years they were together (2022 and 2023).
In Shipman’s case, however, she also has experience catching for the Vipers’ top pick – ex-Tennessee pitcher Ashley Rogers, selected third overall after winning the NFCA Pitcher of the Year award – when the two were teammates in Knoxville from 2019-2021, giving the Vipers a vicious rotation featuring multiple top arms from various seasons when they eventually debut.
A pair of former Oklahoma State infielders and All-Big 12 selections in Rachel Becker and Kiley Naomi also were picked, in addition to the aforementioned Heath, giving Glasco plenty of choices to roll with (and standout players to choose from) when picking daily lineups.
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